AoC demands radical overhaul of inspection

It wants separate regimes for 16-19 learning and adult education
20th March 2015, 12:00am
Darren Evans


AoC demands radical overhaul of inspection

The inspection system for further education should be split in two, under radical proposals that have won support across the sector.

Ofsted's approach to FE is "not fit for purpose", according to a discussion paper commissioned by the Association of Colleges, which calls for a "fundamentally revised" system to be introduced.

Under the proposals, provision for 16-19 learners would be monitored by a "slimmed down" version of the inspectorate, while colleges' adult education offerings would be monitored through a peer-review process.

The model, outlined in the Inspection and FE Colleges paper written by FE policy analyst Mick Fletcher, has been backed by leading figures from the AoC, the University and College Union and adult education body Niace.

"There need to be changes to the way that provision for those up to the age of 19 is inspected, but the approach should be common across all educational settings," the report says. "For adults there needs to be a decisive step towards self-regulation."

It also suggests a revised approach to the quality assurance of college-based higher education, one that gives more weight to the "distinctive nature" of HE delivered in colleges.

The paper says that some argue the FE sector is "sufficiently mature" to move to self-regulation, in line with HE institutions, but there is still strong political support for external inspection, which is seen as more objective and is increasingly wellestablished across the public sector.

Dame Asha Khemka, principal of Vision West Nottinghamshire College, said that although the sector had a "very good, productive relationship" with Ofsted, it was time to consider incorporating greater self-assessment into the accountability structure.

Ofsted is introducing a new common inspection framework in September, designed to "standardise the approach to all education inspections", including those in schools, early years providers and the FE sector.

In FE and skills providers, a number of separate areas of provision will be graded, including 16-19 study programmes, 19+ learning programmes and apprenticeships. However, Ofsted has not yet decided whether to scrap grades for individual lesson observations, as it has in the schools sector.

The AoC report describes the imminent changes as "tinkering", and says that using a system developed for children's services to inspect work-based learning and adult provision "undermines" the positive role of inspection.

"What emerges from the study is confirmation that the current Ofsted model is not fit for purpose," the paper says. "There are few if any high-performing vocational education systems anywhere in the world that adopt a similar model of external inspection for post-compulsory education."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said that union members had raised doubts about Ofsted's ability to effectively measure quality in adult learning. "This report is a useful deliberation on what the alternative might look like," she said.

"We welcome its proposal for a model based on peer review, to replace the unpopular inspection regime which doesn't account for the diverse purposes of further education."

The AoC said it would continue to work with Ofsted to improve the sharing of good practice, but called for more clarity within inspection reports and more detail on the new framework.

The association will consult on the paper's recommendations and, if they are supported by members, could introduce its own system for peer reviews for adult provision, which would operate alongside Ofsted college inspections.

Niace chief executive David Hughes said: "This is an interesting proposal that we'd be pleased to help explore further. It's very clear that adults learn differently to young people.

"They bring experience into the learning setting, as well as the teacher. Adults want to learn informally as well as formally and are much more willing to co-create a curriculum, as we are finding with our Citizens' Curriculum pilots.

"It seems to make sense, therefore, that the inspection process could and probably should be different."

An Ofsted spokesman said: "We agree with the premise that quality improvement in further education and skills is very important.

"In September, we will be making significant changes to the way we inspect good schools and FE and skills providers. These proposals have received considerable support, with more than 4,000 members of the teaching profession, parents and students responding to our recent public consultation."

`I'm not sure if Ofsted is right for us'

Dame Asha Khemka, principal of Vision West Nottinghamshire College, who penned a foreword for the report, says that although discussion of inspection is not new in FE, this is the first time the sector has put forward its own concrete recommendations.

"We have a very good, productive relationship with Ofsted, but the sector has matured in recent years and self-assessment is now part of all colleges, so we feel there's currency to have a debate," she says. "How can the HE sector have a peer-review system but we don't have anything that's been sector-developed in FE?

"The FE sector deals in some very diverse provision for adults; I'm not sure if Ofsted is right for that."

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